Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Freedom of inFamous First Light

This week on PopMatters, I praise the freedom of InFamous First Light.

I'm actually quite bummed I never got around to playing First Light until it PS Plus offered it for free this month. I spent much of this article praising its approach to narrative and mechanical exploration now, unburdened by its predecessor, but never actually paid for the game myself. In some small way, I'm hope I offer up some support for Sucker Punch by simply talking about First Light.

If you haven't yet listened to our latest podcast, I recommend you do. Scott and I chat more about the idea of "Big Small" games, including First Light and Captain Toad included. After recording that podcast, I realized most of my favorite game add-ons push the boundaries of the normal game in significant ways. The Kasumi DLC for Mass Effect 2 added a new companion and a mission that moved from space epic to heist film. Likewise, Lair of the Shadow Broker brings a dark twist to a character in the series. While not as daring as First Light, it does offer a different side of the world than the core game offers.

The Last of Us: Left Behind, like First Light, also serves as a prequel to the core story, although it actually features Ellie as the primary playable character. Importantly, Left Behind is a coming of age story. While The Last of Us is very much an exploration of what fatherhood means in a world of extremes, and how Joel transforms throughout the game, Left Behind is a character study on Ellie herself. It's a strong piece of DLC and I appreciate the team's willingness to leave Joel's story behind entirely.

All that being said, I would still love to see more stories told in game universes without significant characters from a core game needing to carry the load. If anything, a willingness to tell independent stories in this "big small games" is evidence of a well developed world.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

EXP Podcast #313: Big Small Games

Mushrooms: a dragon delicacy
This week on the podcast, our very own Jorge Albor creates a new genre: "big small games."  Don't worry, it actually makes sense.  We've been laboring under the majestic weight of sprawling epics like Dragon Age: Inquisition and Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, so we decided to take a break with some games that have a smaller scope.  We talk about Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, Infamous: First Light, Monument Valley and the overall concept of going for design depth rather than breadth.  Have any favorite games that fit somewhere between free indie and blockbuster status?  Let us know in the comments!

- Here's the show's stand-alone feed
- Listen to the podcast in your browser by left-clicking here, right-click and select "save as link" to download the show in MP3 format, or click play below.

Show Notes:

- Runtime: 41 mins 53 secs

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

We're Playing Earthbound!

Ness is dressed for success
Hey everyone, say "Fuzzy pickles!"  That's right: we're playing Earthbound and we want you to play along.  We'll be dividing the game up into chunks and podcasting about it.  On February 11, 2015 we'll release an intro show covering our first impressions and the plot up through the events in Happy Happy Village.  In the meantime, remember to call your mom and heed your dad's advice about not working too hard.

The Talos Principle: Intro to Robo-ethics

In which we somehow fail both the Voight-Kampff and Turing tests. Humanity is overrated anyway.


Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Micro-machinery of 'Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker'

Captain Toad's bringing the kerchief back.
This week on PopMatters, it's "time for adventure!"

No one adventures like Captain toad.  Actually Toadette probably adventures just as much, if not more based on how difficult some of her levels are to traverse.

I remember thinking to myself that Nintendo should make an entire game out of the Captain Toad levels in Super Mario 3D World.  I must not have been the only one, because that's exactly what they did with Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker.

It's a good reminder that while Nintendo can slowly labor away at a Zelda game for 5 years or more, they can also turn out smaller scope games that are still highly polished and inventive.  With all the huge open world games and bombastic Call of Duty-esque experiences, it's a great change of pace to see a high-budget game with a more restrained implementation.  Instead of trying to wow you with massive worlds, Captain Toad chooses to impress you with the depth and intricacy of its small environments.  What appear to be limited arenas end up being complex three-dimensional mazes with hidden items and optimal solutions.

Captain Toad reminds me of Monument Valley, another puzzle-heavy 3D exploration game I played late last year.  Like captain toad, Monument Valley used an interesting art style along with multilayered levels to provide surprises up until the very end.  Captain Toad leans more heavily on direct action instead of optical illusions, but both games are great examples of how carefully examining a limited environment can be just as rewarding as traversing a huge open world.

I say bring on the Toadette amiibo.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

EXP Podcast #312: Seasonal Check-ins

We may have enough games to while away eternity, all from the latest Steam sale alone, but Scott and I still find time to check-in on our regularly scheduled games of the season. This week on the EXP Podcast, we bring up our patch notes and discuss Titanfall, League of Legends, Destiny, and Super Smash Bros. Has anything changed in the games or in our thoughts? Absolutely!

- Here's the show's stand-alone feed
- Listen to the podcast in your browser by left-clicking here, right-click and select "save as link" to download the show in MP3 format, or click play below.

Show Notes:

- Runtime: 47 mins 17 secs
- Music by Brad Sucks

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Shadow of Mordor: Brand Loyalty

Scott just rented a lovely summer-home along the Sea of Nurnen in Mordor. Let's pay is a visit, shall we!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Feeling of Meaningful Choice

What does your Inquisitor look like?
My latest PopMatters is up, in which I amble about in the dark searching for the feeling, an emotional description of sorts, of meaningful choice in games.

Exploring how you experience art is a strange inward process. I describe it in the article as though it were an attempt to explain the shady unknown of someone standing in your peripheral vision. Actually doing it though, of self-reflectively poking at how something means is more destabilizing than that. Trying to understand the experiential difference between one choice and another becomes an exercise in futility.

Take Mendelsund's What We See When We Read. The book is an excellent analysis of the act of reading, but it also asks far more questions than it answers. Is reading really like following a path? If so, what does it mean to diverge from that path? How does the order of events or descriptions (or the lack thereof) change how we experience a character or a story? All of these apply to games too, as narrative works, but are then mixed up with a strange variation in agency.

My decision in Dragon Age: Inquisition to romance Josephine, whether or not it alters the script significantly, is fundamentally important to me in a way far more important than, say, whether I chose to kill all the dragons in the game. If you choose to not romance anyone, are you missing out on meaning? I don't think so. Instead, how the game means is different.

How do things mean to you? I don't know. But searching for an answer is a rewarding process in and of itself.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

EXP Podcast #311: Game of Thrones, Episode 1 Debrief

"Yeah...that definitely looks infected."
Gather round, my sweet summer children. Winter isn't coming; it's here, as is the first episode of Telltale's Game of Thrones series. Hanah joins us this week as we recap the story so far and justify our choices. We swear we acted for the good of the realm.

- Here's the show's stand-alone feed
- Listen to the podcast in your browser by left-clicking here, right-click and select "save as link" to download the show in MP3 format, or click play below.

Show Notes:

- Runtime: 55 mins 18 secs
- Music by Brad Sucks

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Trine 2: Sarlacc Pit Edition

Our odyssey has taken us to a backwater planet Outer Rim. Apparently there's some roadside attraction called Great Pit of Carkoon around here? Sounds nice!


Thursday, January 8, 2015

Smash Bros. Personality Profiles

Which has a Napoleon complex?
This week on PopMatters, it's time to speculate about strangers on the Internet based on their Smash Bros. Style.

The existence of a functional (but far from perfect) online mode in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U has exposed me to a huge variety of opponents. In the space of a few weeks, I've played more people and experienced more styles than I have over the over the rest of my 15 year history with Smash. True, an online match is downright sterile compared to many of the drunk, expletive-laden real-life grudge matches I've had, but the silence has actually been surprisingly informative.

Because the 1 on 1 "For Glory” fights have completely standardized rules, you’re able to see how a wide variety of people act under the same set of circumstances. Without any text or voice chat (other than a short, customizable screen name), you get to know someone by their deeds rather than words. You keep fighting the same person until someone leaves the matchup which facilitates a gradual non-verbal relationship. Some people bow before a match. Some get more aggressive with every loss while others remain clinical no matter what the outcome. You find people that use a particular character in a completely novel way with the catch being they are only competent with that single character.

In a strange way, it feels a bit like Journey: you have this companion you randomly encounter. You’re there for the same basic reason, but you don’t have an easy way to explicitly communicate. You're forced to learn about each other through gestures and actions. Smash is clearly more bombastic and adversarial, but the basic concept is the same: without a good way to talk, you have to make interpretations.

Now the only thing to do is get to work on that Journey amiibo.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

EXP Podcast #310: Valiant Hearts Debrief

One hundred years ago, the world was at War. Today we are remembering how that war effected the lives of millions, and continues to effect our own lives today, by playing a video game. This week on the EXP Podcast, Scott and I discuss Valiant Hearts: The Great War by Ubisoft Montpellier. If you have played the game yourself, be sure to hop into the comments and share your thoughts. How does this game depict the war as you understand it? Is this was a "playable-museum-exhibit" should look like? We want to know!

- Here's the show's stand-alone feed
- Listen to the podcast in your browser by left-clicking here, right-click and select "save as link" to download the show in MP3 format, or click play below.

Show Notes:

- Runtime: 45 mins 47 secs
- Music by Brad Sucks

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Captain Toad: Treasure Addict

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is out. But why does toad seek all this treasure? Is it because it unlocks the secret of immortality? Is it because he hides some cannibalistic secret? Check out the video below and find out!